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‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 14, 1994

Are you ready for this? “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is a great movie, easily the most brilliant of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. It’s witty, smart, funny, entertaining, and you’ll still like yourself in the morning for watching it.

You’re familiar, of course, with Freddy Krueger, the quasi-folkloric spectral killer with the steel claw, the melted face and the striped shirt. In seven “Nightmare” movies (counting this one), he has shown an irreversible penchant for entering the dreams of adolescents (at least those foolish enough to indulge their sexual impulses) and rendering them into human tuna. Each sequel, since 1984’s original “Nightmare on Elm Street,” promised us he would never return. But since New Line Cinema (the distribution company) turned such juicy profits on these bloody farewells, Freddy—miraculously—kept coming back.

In “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” set in the very real present, Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund (the stars of the original “Nightmare”), Craven (the creator of it all) and the executives of New Line Cinema all play themselves. It has been a few years since Langenkamp played the schoolgirl-heroine in the original. Now married to a special effects technician, she’s a parent (to 8-year-old Miko Hughes) and concerned about things like screen violence.

But since the series came to an official end, strange things have been happening. Langenkamp’s been getting scary phone calls, apparently from Freddy. Her son has been having disturbing dreams, the kind her character used to have. And things get even stranger when Bob Shaye, the head of New Line Cinema, makes Langenkamp an offer: another “Elm Street” movie, with Englund (who plays Freddy), to be written by Craven himself.

Craven, after launching the “Elm Street” phenomenon, left the sequels to the hacks. But he has been having weird dreams too. He’s back with a compelling reason to make another movie: The “Elm Street” movies, until this point, have kept Freddy’s evil within fictional boundaries. Now that the series is over, Freddy refuses to fade away. He’s starting to spill into real life. They’re going to have to keep making Freddy movies just to keep him imprisoned. If there’s a more inspired marketing concept than that, I haven’t heard it.

“Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” continues in this self-referential way, operating on several levels of reality and irony. By the way, in terms of mounting suspense, few do it better than Craven. The movie has all the scary trademarks too, from alarmingly shrill telephones to boo! effects to the usual, Dante-meets-MTV descent into hell. “New Nightmare” is designed to please just about everybody—from diehard “Elm Street” fans to the series’s most confirmed enemies. The good news is not that Freddy’s back. It’s that Craven is back.

"Wes Craven's New Nightmare" contains scary scenes and gory killing.

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